Wrong again. The point is just that argument without evidence is just guruspeak. Here’s what Dean actually wrote (emphasis mine):

To say, in the absence of supporting data, that the answer for the Post is to “commit” to an anti-paywall strategy, to “push the innovation meter to 11,” and make “digital first a core mandate” is to say nothing at all. There is nothing in the PostCo.’s publicly released data to support that case. At some point, belief has to yield to evidence. Even Clay Shirky, who needs no one to vouch for his network-theory cred, has recognized the obvious in the case of the Post.

“Digital First,” in the sense of refusing to charge newspaper readers for a subscription, is bankrupt, both literally in the case of the main unit of the so-named American newspaper company, and, in the wider sense, as a strategy for newspapers generally.

If the free strategy can work, fine. But bring some numbers to the argument.

Also, the freehadists don’t get to own “digital first.” You can advocate charging for digital subscriptions and still be digital first, so to speak. This is not about the smell of newsprint in the morning (If newspapers could transition everybody to tablets or whatever tomorrow, we’d be first to support it). It’s about supporting robust institutional journalism. If we thought free could do it, we’d be all about it. It’s had 15 years, and it can’t work.

Scratch that. Maybe it can and maybe it will someday. In which case, the papers can drop their paywalls and share in the riches. Don’t hold your breath.

Finally, as a public service, I’ve drawn up a handy guide to the FONsters’ straw men:

Paywalls are not a panacea, a cure-all, or a magic solution.

Nobody thinks they are. Nobody (that I’ve seen) has ever said that. Digital subscriptions are an incremental source of revenue at a time when newspapers are bleeding to death and digital ads are bringing in four bucks a CPM. They won’t succeed everywhere, particularly at newspapers that have gutted their newsrooms, and they’re not enough on their own to assure we have robust news coverage. But it’s money on the table that newspapers can’t reject hoping for some nebulous future “free” innovation, which not one of 1,500 American newspapers has yet to find in some 17 years of the Web era.

A paywall is an all-or-nothing proposition.

This is false, of course. The meter model preserves almost all traffic—and thus, ad revenue— by allowing casual readers to visit 10 or 20 times a month while charging core readers for access.

If you charge online you can’t have a “digital first” strategy.

Lacy says about the Post, “But they’re one of the only great media empires actually looking for a digital solution to a digitally-created problem.” So charging on the innertubes isn’t “digital”?

Readers never paid for news. They paid for the delivery apparatus.

Ask one of those readers whether they fork over money for the paper or for what’s printed on it.

The single-minded focus on paywalls is slowing the development of other solutions.”

No it’s not. It’s just the lowest-hanging fruit. Come up with some other way to make money and papers will try that too.

Fortunately, these naysayers are losing the argument. Unfortunately it took far too long for the newspaper industry to move toward charging online, and some papers are likely too far gone.

Set aside your ideology and realize there is money on the table that news organizations can’t afford to leave alone.

I’m sure that will happen sometime. Even Lt. Onoda eventually got off the island—in 1972.

 

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu.